Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Stars, October 25th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

One more game on this horse shi… uh, horse show road trip. The Caps visit Dallas this evening, and when they do, your favorite prognosticator will be laying off the anchovy and pineapple pizza. It has a strange effect on his last night’s sleep...

“Ovi-Wan Kenobi. Ovi-Wan…now that’s a name I’ve not heard in a long time. A long time.

“I think my uncle knows him. He said he was washed up.”

“Oh, he’s not washed up…not yet.”

“You know him?”

“But of course I know him. He’s me. I haven’t gone by the name of ‘Ovi-Wan’ since…last season.”

"Ovi-Wan Kenobi, a year ago you served our team in the Stretch Run Wars. Now we beg you to help us tonight in our struggle against the Death Stars. I regret that I am unable to present our request to you in person, but my car’s in the shop and I'm afraid my mission to bring you to the Stanley Cup playoffs could fail. I have placed information vital to the survival of our playoff hopes into the memory systems of this CCM Vector stick. This is our most desperate hour.

Help us, Ovi-Wan Kenobi, you're our only hope."

Well, perhaps not their only hope, but it couldn’t hurt for Alex Ovi-Wa…Ovechkin to break the five game streak without a goal he brings into tonight’s game against the Dallas Stars. It could be a formidable task. The Stars, though, are having problems of their own, as the numbers suggest:

Record: 3-4-1 (2nd in Pacific/9th in Western Conference)
Goals for/game: 2.88 (16th in NHL)
Goals against/game: 4.00 (29th)
5-on-5: 0.73 (25th)
Power play: 15.8% (20th)
Penalty killing: 76.9% (23rd)

This is not the typical performance of a club that has averaged 105 standings points a year over the last eleven years, and that has had fewer than 100 points in only three of those seasons. The Stars have been consistently poor through games, getting out scored in each of the first (9-7), second (12-9), and third (10-7) periods through eight games this year. In three home games, the Stars have both scored and allowed 14 goals and have both scored and allowed three power play goals. Unlike the Stars we’ve gotten used to, a team that has resembled more the Western Conference version of the New Jersey Devils for their attention to system detail, they’ve been more the let-it-all-hang-out sort of club at home in the early going.

The Stars have found themselves having to climb out of holes a little too often for their liking. They have been scored upon first in six of their eight games, and they have a 1-4-1 record in those games to show for it. They’ve won both games in which they posted the first goal. Coming from behind is always difficult in the NHL, but the Stars have shown almost no ability to recover from a deficit. They are 1-4-1 when trailing after one period, 0-4-0 when trailing after two. Clearly, a good start favors the Capitals, but that’s going to be true on most nights.

One of the disappointments so far at this earl juncture for the Stars might be the performance of Sean Avery. The free-agent pick-up is only 0-2-2, -1 in eight games and leads the team with 31 penalty minutes. He does, however, have four goals in six career games against Washington.

The curiosity for this team is Fabian Brunnstrom. Undrafted by the NHL, he emerged as a potential NHLer as a result of his play in the Swedish Elite League last season (at age 23). Several teams – Detroit, Vancouver, and Toronto among them – were said to be vying for his services, but he signed a two-year entry deal with Dallas. Held out of the first two Stars games this season, he scored a hat trick in his NHL debut (also credited with the game winner) against Nashville, the third player to achieve the feat and the first in 29 years. However, since that start, Brunnstrom is 1-2-3, -5 in five games and skated less than ten minutes in his last outing against the Islanders.

Another early season disappointment of sorts is sophomore defenseman Matt Niskanen. In his rookie year last season, Niskanen was 7-19-26, +22 in 78 games. However, he is 0-1-1 in eight games to date and is a team worst -6.

One of the problems the Stars have had that is reflected in their goals allowed numbers is the absence of three-time Selke Trophy winner Jere Lehtinen. In addition to his defensive skill, Lehtinen has chipped in some offense in his career against the Caps (5-6-11, +8 in 13 career games). He has been ruled out of this game with a groin injury.

This will likely be the first time Krys Barch – a 4th round pick of the Caps in 1998, but for whom he never played a game – will play against Washington. Given that he’s topped the 100 penalty minute total in each of his two seasons with the Stars (doing it in only 26 games in his first season in Dallas), it’s not likely he’s going to be out there to provide a spark on offense.

There is also the old man on this team – Mike Modano. The 38-year old is probably no longer the consistent point-a-game player he was 5-10 years ago, but he always seems to find a way to inflict damage on the Caps. He’s 11-28-39, +15 in 30 career games against Washington, and he found a way to abuse Jamie Heward in other ways a couple of years ago…

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder:

Dallas: Marc Fistric/Nicklas Grossman

With Doug Janik doubtful and Sergei Zubov declared out for this game, this pair of defensemen take on some importance. Fistric is a load, physically, but by the same token might be exploited by the Caps’ speed. Grossman is a youngster (this is his second full season), and might be vulnerable to the skill among the Capitals’ forwards. Whether the Caps can get favorable matchups will be something to watch. If these two struggle, then Marty Turco’s perfect regular season record against the Caps (3-0-0, 1.21, .953) will be in jeopardy.

Washington: Sergei Fedorov

Fedorov has a long and successful history in playing against the Stars, primarily a product of his long tenure in Detroit. He is 33-44-77, +14 in 79 career games against the Stars with seven game winners, 12 power play goals, and five shorthanded goals. It seems likely once more that Fedorov will patrol the blue line, given the Caps’ injury situation, but he would also seem to be a candidate for power play time that will give him an opportunity to renew his acquaintance with the red light behind the Dallas net.

When you’re struggling, it doesn’t all come back at once, in most cases. Hard work here, a fluke there, and you get a toe-hold on turning things around. Dallas doesn’t play “elegant,” and the Caps should be prepared for a more typical tightly-fought, close to the vest Dallas effort. The defense has been there the last few games, with conspicuous errors late doing the Caps in. If they can tighten that up a bit and loosen up the grip on their sticks, they can make the last game of the road trip better than the first two.

Caps 2 – Stars 1

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